I’ve always had a soft spot for bad guys. As a kid reading the Dragonlance Chronicles and Legends trilogies for the first time, I didn’t gravitate towards Tanis, Sturm or Laurana. It was Raistlin, Kitiara, and the Queen of Darkness herself. Above all, it was Lord Soth, Knight of the Black Rose. For me, Soth was the quintessential Dungeons & Dragons villain. He was a force of his own dark nature, but with a brutality shackled by nobility. The tragedy of his story and character was that Soth embodied both the highest knightly virtues and the meanest human vices.
I followed Soth’s journey as he fought alongside Kitiara Uth Matar, battled Tanis Half-Elven in the streets of Palanthas, traveled to the Demiplane of Dread where he met Strahd Von Zarovich, and became lord of the dark domain of Sithicus. Ultimately he returned to his home world of Krynn. I watched him die by the hand of the Dark Queen, buried under the rubble of his own keep, then saw him return in the Lost Chronicles trilogy.
By 2021, it seemed like Soth had been forgotten by the fantasy and TTRPG communities. I wanted to do my part to recover this forgotten legend. So, I created a 4-part series of podcast episodes telling Soth’s complete story as depicted in novels and anthologies for my show Unaligned. When I became the showrunner for The Dragonlance Canticle podcast, I had the immense privilege to speak with James Lowder, author of Knight of the Black Rose and Spectre of the Black Rose, and the architect of Soth’s legacy in Ravenloft. That two-part episode is available on The Dragonlance Canticle (part 1 and part 2).
In 2022, Soth returned again, this time gracing the cover of the first official D&D 5th Edition Dragonlance book, Dragonlance: Shadow of the Dragon Queen. With the Dragonlance setting now open to creators on DMs Guild and with Soth front and center in a new adventure, I decided to take all the research I had amassed in the past two years and apply myself to creating Shadow of the Black Rose, an epilogue adventure which would pick up where the official campaign left off and provide players the opportunity to travel to Dargaard Keep and battle Soth to the death.
One of my goals was to create a fun and engaging adventure that could continue “Shadow of the Dragon Queen” or be played as a stand-alone adventure. Next, I wanted to satisfy fans who grew up in the “classic” setting by reminding them of who Soth is and what makes him a great villain, while at the same time introducing this death knight to a new generation of fans. Finally, I wanted a consistent narrative that could be incorporated into the adventure, a task that isn’t easy when you are looking at 40 years of material.
We at the Dragonlance Nexus pride ourselves on our commitment to consider all perspectives when examining Dragonlance lore. While the works of Weis and Hickman are our primary sources, we compare the works of other writers and designers to the primary works. Lord Soth is not only a Dragonlance villain but was also featured in Ravenloft. The lore of the character has been controversial for some Dragonlance fans, but overall, the influences on the character from James Lowder made him more than just another scheming villain. Combine that with the contributions from Voronica Whitney-Robinson, Lisa Smedman, Chris Pierson, Edo van Belkom, Michael Gray, and others. Now you have many viewpoints on who Lord Soth was and a shared history that doesn’t always agree on the little things.
Unfortunately, it would be impossible to incorporate all the existing lore seamlessly. There are simply too many contradictions. For example, Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman created the character and story of Lord Soth, but Soth’s experiences in Ravenloft are not canonical to the Weis and Hickman novels. The adventure needed a consistent Soth mythology that would best serve the narrative, would be clear for DMs and players to understand, and would highlight the crucial moments of his story. That mythology also needed to adhere to the narrative of “Shadow of the Dragon Queen” to create a cohesive story.
Soth’s loyal knight Caradoc is a figure with his own canon issues. He was first depicted as Soth’s vain and sniveling seneschal, transformed into a ghost upon his death. Later, he was depicted as a cold-blooded schemer ultimately cursed to serve Soth as one of the thirteen original skeletal knights. “Shadow of the Dragon Queen” combines both elements, depicting him as a vain, scheming ghost knight.
There are parts of the classic lore that are simply too crucial to understand the character and his downfall to jettison, however. This includes the truth regarding the death of Soth’s first wife, Korinne. In the classic lore, Soth murdered her for failing to produce a worthy heir and so he could marry his mistress Isolde instead. This monstrous act fulfilled his father’s prophecy that he could never be a true knight and marked Soth’s first step towards damnation. In “Shadow of the Dragon Queen”, Soth’s crime is marrying too soon after his wife’s death, which earns him banishment from the knighthood, and the only way to earn absolution for this sin is to stop the Cataclysm, which he failed to do. The punishment doesn’t really fit the crime.
Soth is not merely a bad husband or even a tragic villain, but a true monster – a cheater, an oathbreaker, and a murderer. Shying away from Soth’s crimes makes him sympathetic and safe. Any writer or Dungeon Master approaching Soth should consider whether they want Soth to have a redemption arc at all or whether they want the players to despise him and to strive enthusiastically for his destruction.